The bubble has reached instagram models and farmers in India. It was time to sell now and create a war chest for when buying begins again after the bubble. I have sold all my BitCoins and made a confident 100 fold profit on it. That is more than anyone can ask for.
This articles is part of my world trip. Read more.
On my way from Shanghai to Taipei, I had booked a long layover in Hong Kong, decreasing my flight costs and giving me 40€ and 18 hours to spend there. As I had not managed to get on one of the famous hiking trails last time, I took the good weather as a change to make it an early morning hike. The night before, I had arrived in my city centre hostel just about in time to get some 6 hours of sleep to take the first bus in the morning to make my way to the Dragon Back Tail, the most popular of the trails. After missing my stop, I had to get back on the other bus back. The bus driver gave me the typical confused-tourist look, but that was fine.
Arriving at the trail, I noticed that I was the first to embark on the hiking adventure that day as there were plenty of spider webs for me to pass through. I was armed with 2 litres of water and some sandwiches from Hong Kong and even China. Expected to be a 3 hour hike, I was surprisingly fast and finished after only two hours. On my way, I only passed on Chinese couple and a two buddhist nuns from South Korea who were overly excited to meet me. At the local muslim cemetery, I read a book at a scenic gazebo.
On my way back and then to the airport, I noticed quite some police presence. Only later at the airport I realised that this morning, Xi Jing Pin had traveled to HK to swear in the new governor. Luckily, it did not affect any of my travels and I was also happy to have found a geocache at the Airport! Soon, off I was only my flight to Taipei, starting my real summer adventure of 2017!
This articles is part of my world trip. Read more.
Luckily, my flight from Moscow arrived on time, so I had roughly 6 hours in Shanghai before getting on my next flight. Beforehand, I had already planned to visit the Propaganda Art Museum which I had missed last time in Shanghai. The museum is one of those weird foreigner experiences you only can get in China. Upon arriving at the housing block, before even entering the area, a guard came up to me and handed me a map to find my way to the museum which is in the basement of a residential area block. Arriving there, you will meet a women that chargers you 25CNY, roughly 4 USD, as you enter into a basement filled with posters over posters.
The collection of 6000 posters showed a excerpt starting at around 1930 all the way up to 2000ish. While progressing through the gallery, you will slowly notice, through reading the descriptions, that back then, propaganda art was one of the very, if not the most, influential form of propaganda in China. Even more so, it changed heavily over the decades. Interestingly, already back then, China tried to influence domestic politics of foreign countries, for example when a poster depicted the anti-war movement and a call for the Chinese people to support them. Of another interests was also the development of the Chinese-Russian relationship over time. Finally, the worshipping of Mao is a common theme among the posters. This collection is unique and probably does not exist anywhere else in the world. Its message is quite powerful and I recommend anyone in Shanghai to take off some 3 hours to visit it before the government or other circumstances shut it down. I really hope they have safely stored copies outside the country.
This articles is part of my world trip. Read more.
I started off in Munich at around 10 in the morning and arrived on time in Moscow SVO at 2 in the afternoon. Immigration went smoothly, my visa for two days, which I was one of the few to actually get from the Munich Embassy itself, was accepted and officially entered Russia for the first time. First things first, I got Internet. 12Gb on 4G speed for a mere 7$. Taking the Aeroport Express directly to Belaruskia, I made my way to my “high-level” hostel (http://hostelhl.ru), located in the Moscow’s business district on the 43rd floor of one the “Empire” tower.
The whole district is apparently under constructions for more than 10 years and getting to the hostel from the underground takes up to 15 hours, because many paths are blocked and the security at the tower is also rather slow. But the view is great! I made some friends, but fairly soon went on my way to meet my friend who then gave me a quick tour of Moscow’s center. After only 90 or so minutes we were already sitting at the dinner table. It does not take much to see most of the big attractions of Moscow! Apparently 80% of the Russian GDP is made in Moscow, so what I saw on that day was the top of the top.
Another interesting observation was that Moscow was the first city I have been to that does not offer ANY English advice regarding how to use the subway system.
The dinner was good, the traditional food I got was heavy as expected and it also does taste just like you expect Russian food to taste like. We got an early night, to get some rest before touring some more attractions the next day.
My hostel offered breakfast and I definitely took advantage of it. There was also some sweet rice based oatmeal like dish wish I ate three bowls of. Some jam-sandwich and cake was there as well and a hot tea all together made a good start into the day.
First, we started with the “fake” kremlin. It is a white-painted replica of the Kremlin in the far north of Moscow. There were many sellers of all kinds of touristy goods there, but there were not annoying at as you usually experience in Asia. Although the fake Kremlin was impressive, it was still really just fake, so we continued to the Russian Space Museum. I enjoyed the visit quite a lot as I have only been to Space Museums that have worshipped the Western conquering of space and not so much the Russian side. This museum instead focused primarily on the Russian space exploration, offering a quite different, or really opposite, picture of the race for space. I highly recommend the museum. Definitely worth a visit for increasing your historic and cultural understanding. We followed up with lunch at a buffet like restaurant near the real Kremlin. Afterwards, we witnessed a celebration ceremony by the far left communist party right in front of the Kremlin. We also wanted to visit another famous church, but unfortunately, due to overcrowding, the area had been blocked off. Instead, we got some city bikes and cycled through a park as well as along the river, eventually visiting another smaller church. Funnily enough, the way the locals prayed to their catholic (?) goods in this golden church very much reminded me of the way the Chinese were praying to their Golden Budda in Hangzhou. Speaking off, in the evening we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant apparently highly frequented by Chinese diplomat officials and expats. Eventually, we ended up back at Studentskaya packing to leave and had a pizza and tea in the mall next to the main train station of Moscow. After leaving my friends to their travels to St. Petersburg, I went back to my hostel.
Once again, I had a full breakfast and then immediately got on a city bike to cycle for about two hours into Moscow City centre. There I visited the Arcade museum, a collection of not just digital, but also analog Arcade games from long time ago in the Soviet era. As historical artefact, these machines told quite some stories about Russia back in the 20th century. Afterwards, I left for SVO Airport. I checked in early, had a sandwich and then almost missed my flight as my Laptop had not adjusted its timezone!
All in all, although short in length, my visit to Moscow was a thorough experience. Moscow is definitely a unique city, but due to its climate and development, not really attractive for any expats that can also choose to live in a more sunny and hospitable city.
6 days of Zanzibar, Tansania (East Africa) including a fun police story (plus one day of Luxembourg shenanigans)
“Hey, there is a return trip to Zanzibar from Luxembourg for 200€, I just booked it, are you in as well?” my friend tells me over the phone.
Of course, I was in. After checking my timetables, realising I would be skipping the last week of term, which only consist of revision and useless seminars anyway, I booked my tickets as well. From the 29th we would embark on a journey from Luxembourg to Zanzibar, an island of the east African Tanzania, arriving back in Munich on the 6th of April, just about the right time to get working on my dissertation!
This is the story of two dudes that booked very cheap flights to an island, they only knew from looking it up on Google Maps — nothing more. We knew how it looked from above, and now we wanted to know how it looked from being right there. This holiday is unofficially sponsored by LuxAir or Oman Air, which made the sweet mistake of offering us an error fare and not cancelling it!
Our journey started in Luxembourg as we had to take on all flight legs of our bookings to not risk having the later parts cancelled. Therefore, we were basically forced to spent a day in Luxembourg — and I cannot complain!
On the 28th, we headed to my friends place to catch the train to Luxembourg at 3.50am in the morning from Augsburg to Saarbrücken, taking the bus there to Luxembourg. We arrived in Luxembourg with excellent weather and as we only had carry on bags, we just got two “velo” city bikes and made our way to our luxury hostel. We checked in, power napped and then started our city cruise on our 5€/24h bikes. We basically explored all there is of Luxembourg (there is not that much actually), all the bridges, all the valleys. It was obvious that money was not an issue for this small country. New and pretty buildings were being constructed or already ready to enjoy. Elderly homes were ridiculously beautiful. In the evening, we enjoyed delicious pizza with Luxembourgian beer, going to bed before midnight, because I only had had like three hours of sleep the night before.
After a decent breakfast at the hostel, we checked out, and enjoyed Kirchberg, where all the big companies and also the EU have offices, catches some sun rays and enjoyed a castle museum. We then dropped off our bikes, clocking in just below 24h hours and made our way to the Airport to our flight which would bring us back to where we just came from the day before: Munich.
The flight was less than half full and we arrived in Munich on time, making our way to my parents place to get some dinner before we would continue our flights at 9pm. This basically makes this the best layover ever as I got to take a shower at home and enjoy time with family. We got ready with some whiskey tasting and made our way to the airport. Because we only had carry on luggage and our tickets already printed, we never checked in with the airline and it turns out they wanted to see our passports. When we arrived, we apparently had already been called out over the PA six times which made us not particularly popular with the check in lady. Still, she gave us priority boarding (I don’t know why), so we got some nice seats. I had a whole four seater row for myself for this leg to Muscat in Oman and after watching La La Land basically slept all the way through.
After about 6 hours we arrived in Muscat where it was 6 in the morning, not 3am in the night as back home. Fortunately, there was free wifi so it was easy to bridge the hours of layover before we could board our flight to Zanzibar. After another 6 or so hours, we arrived in Zanzibar at 1pm. We left the airport and were immediately swamped by “official” airport personnel that tried to get us on all kinds of taxis. After getting some money from the ATM and shacking off all these really determined “agents” we decided to get a Jeep from Kibabu Cars which was the best choice for the whole trip. For 35$ a day, we had a drivable safe which could takes us across almost all terrain any time we wanted.
After getting some petrol and totally getting embarrassed by the petrol station manager that had to show us how to drive an automatic car, we made our way south towards the Uzi island. We got close, but it turns out that the street to Uzi gets flooded on high tide, so we had to reverse and route to an alternative beach.
We arrived there and had a nice swim to which about 10 teens joined us, seemingly making fun of us. They pretended not to know any English, but they did. We also got to eat our watermelon and then drove our way east in the sunset.
This night we stayed at Paje, at a very Western hostel called, new Teddy’s place. It had a bar and barracks with 8 beds each to sleep in. We got some very nice dinner, Seafood nasi goreng, for about 6$ and joined the people at the bar. There were plenty of Germans, but also Indians, Americans, Polish people; Cubans, Venezuelans and Lebanese. While my friend got an early sleep in, I joined the fun crowd for a long night of beach partying. I tried all the beers and also the famous “Konyagi” gin. After a midnight swim, we had a short football game and then went to the local Friday party night (“Jumbio?”) at the north part of Paje beach.
Someone managed to negotiate a half price entry and so we joined the people there, 50/50 local and Western people. It is hard to describe how ridiculously luxurious a party at the beach with the stars above and a bar next to it is. Long story short, we had a lot of fun and there was plenty of scandalous behaviour. Unfortunately, at the end of the night, about 4 in the morning, a local girl identified me as her former lover that “cut his hair just to hide” and would not let go of me. I literally had to run away to escape her while my friends enjoyed supporting her in her endeavour. Scratch marks were involved. As I later that week was told, this girl actually turned up at the hostel the next day to look for me, but luckily I was on a trip to the south at that point already.
I had pancakes at 10am with whoever survived the night before and after a quick swim in the sea, we made our way south with a German friend we met the night before. We stopped at an abanded beach, got some shades under some rocks while discussing the political issues of Africa (these discussion are inevitable, but also never go anywhere really). At the most southern part, we had a walk in into the sea. These are the moments where you realise how valuable a Jeep (or a bike) is when backpacking as you can explore so many more places than just by public transport. Back at Paje, we dropped off our new friend and drove further north, deciding to get dinner at the famous restaurant “The Rock”. The only way to get there is by boat as it is literally a rock in the sea. We parked our jeep while all the other guests had to arrive by taxi. We definitely felt cool. We immediately got seats and ordered some cocktails and then food. It was amazing. We enjoyed the sunset while having some of the best African food one can imagine. Later we got some desserts, moved to some more comfortably beachy seats and enjoyed spicy tea until they kicked us out because they were closing.
Instead of getting a hostel, we decided to sleep on the beach in Paje tonight. So we drove back down there, parked our car next to the hostel, zipped up warm, got a bottle of water and our watermelon knife and then laid down on the stretches of a local resort for the night, burying the car keys in the sand next to an Umbrella. I did not sleep that night. Every know and then a dark figure would pass and because there had been robberies on the southern part of that beach before, I just could not go to sleep. Instead, I occasionally would take a walk along the beach and enjoy the stars until eventually the sun would rise.
We jumped into the water and when the sun had all risen, we got back to the car at like 6.30am and started our tour to get north to Nungwi, the northern most city on Zanzibar. On the way, we passed a local turtles conservatory which was way to expensive so we left. We also got a pineapple and ate it at the entrance of an extremely old and rusty resort near Chwaka. Further north, we passed a beach with plenty of resorts and just walked in. It was apparently solely filled with Italians and it felt really awful. We also observed the weird appearance of old Italian ladies walking around with local 20 year old guys. If anyone knows why exactly this is so, please let me know, we have some guesses, too.
Eventually, we ended up in front of a Villa complex at noon and had one of the most awful overheated power naps. We then walked onto a beach where someone offered us snorkelling near the Mnemba island. We did not plan to do snorkeling, but after some negotiating, we decided to go with it and it was a good choice. This was my first time proper snorkelling and it was very enjoyable. The riff did not look too exciting but it still was quite a lot of fun! After some payment issues, we headed up north in Nungwi, we got a totally overpriced room with Jumbo brothers and enjoyed a burger before we went to bed.
We got some omelettes at 10am, enjoyed the beautiful local beach for a bit, seeing all the resorts such as the Hilton Double Tree and then made our way back south. Immediately outside of Nungwi, we saw a little path which promised a cave and eventually went on a cave tour. Zanzibar has caves, who knew! They apparently were also used as hiding place during the revolution (or something). Right after, we had the best encounter with the corrupt police on Zanzibar of the whole trip.
We were going down into a small valley village, actually only driving about 30kmh as we were looking for a place to get lunch, when we were stopped by a police check point. I parked at the curb and a police man came up to the passenger window. “Do you know how fast you were going?” (with a broad African broken English accent) he asked. “maximum of 60kmh, because that is the limit here” I answered. He then said I was going to fast, and that I was going 52kmh in a 40kmh zone (these do not exist as far as I checked). He also said he had us on his radar machine and then asked me to park on the left and to get out of the car, which starts the most strange encounter I will have with police ever.
He then asked my to read out the licence plate number and also the name on my driving licence. My friend then asked if we actually could see the evidence and the police man assured us that we can do all that in just a minute. He then also gave me the road laws to read, so I could see that I was threatened with jail if I would not pay a fine of a minimum of 75$ dollars. After realising that all this seemed a bit fishy and knowing that I actually did not go above 40kmh and that the radar machine was actually never pointed at us, I tried my negational luck.
I asked him for evidence and then told him that I would need to call my lawyer (I was actually planning to use our rental guy as our “lawyer”). This already seemingly made him feel a bit awry. I then continued to tell him that I will have my lawyer come down here to validate the evidence (which obviously did not exist). After further chit chat he gave me a choice: either I would have to pay the fine or I would get a warning he would need to get from his supervisor which was 100 meter away. I asked him what that warning was, but he did not really answer clearly.
So I said “I rather want a warning than jail”. “Are you sure you want a warning?” he then asked me, “Do you even know what a warning is?” “It still sounds better than jail, so yes”. So he gave me a warning. Sounds like a joke, right? Well, it’s true. Obviously, everyone was “happy” and “laughing” at this point and he made my friend promise to check my speed when driving (this really must have been a joke). Ultimately, I asked for his name and he then asked for my name, which clearly shows that he could not care less, because he just had written it down on his paper. We shook hands and went each our own ways. The police, your friend and supporter, not in Zanzibar, though.
Anyway, we then drove to something called “state farm”, passing the Zanzibar sugar factory plant and then had a little power nap in a jungle behind a church. We wanted to catch the sunset on the west coast, so we drove there. But at all these dead end streets to the sea, we only saw hotel resorts. Eventually, we knocked on the door of one of them and asked if they served dinner, they actually let us in and so we just walked straight to the beach which had an amazing pier. We enjoyed the sunset there all the way to the end, then got some dinner from a street shop and then set up our jeep to sleep in front of another resort for the night. Which was a bad idea.
The jeep would heat up so fast and after trying all kind of methods, open windows etc. we settled on turning on the AC every two hours. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere. An observer would have seriously questioned their sanity if they saw a jeep turning on in the middle of the night, blasting the AC for minutes just to turn off again. But we survived, we were not robbed and we head of to Mangapwani beach at 5am (with basically no sleep).
When we arrived, we saw a weird happening taking place, where basically the whole village was streaming to the beach where about 10 fisher boats were unloading their catch from the night before. While they were selling their fish, we enjoyed the show with a breakfast water melon. Afterwards, we went a bit more north to see the former slave chambers, which unfortunately were closed. Walking down the close beach, we encountered a white girl practicing kick boxing with 5 local guys at 7am on the beach. Dead end’s never fail to surprise. At the other side of the beach, we spotted an abandoned cafe where we found a lonely guy. He did not stop talking Swahili to us and eventually got a friend who spoke English. We ordered tea with this random stranger and he actually got us some tea at 7.30am in the morning out of frickin nowhere.
This was our last day with the jeep and we drove it south to Zanzibar City where we would return it. Before, we toured some old World War 2 bunkers where we also encountered a stoned couple from Belarus. We checked into a place with really good internet in Stone town, dropped off the car, and as it did not stop raining we just stayed in that night, only going outside for dinner at Lukmaan, a really good restaurant with excellent smoothies.
We woke up at 11am, got breakfast, again at Lukmaan and took a boat tour to Prison Island, a place located about 3-4kms off the coast, which just really is not exciting. It was really disappointing, so we left back early. On the plus side, we bumped into our friends from our first night at Paje hostel and they had some more friends with them as well. We agreed to meet that night (and we actually eventually did). Back in Stone town, we visited the former slave market, a historically important part of Zanzibar with a proper museum. Back at dinner at Lukmaan, we bumped into the Paje crew again and some of them were couch surfing. With their host, we eventually ended up at a local bar called Tatu, where we enjoyed the last night before we headed to the airport at 3am in the morning. I got into a chat with a local prison guard who was one of the few genuinely nice Zanzibarians I met over the last days. He grew up near Stone town, became a certified carpenter and now has four kids. He agreed to drive us to the airport which was really nice. At the airport, we luckily got through security early and checked in early as well. I managed to buy the last bottle of Konyagi for friends back home and also was able to get it through security in Muscat which is not a certain thing!
We boarded our plane to Munich at about 1pm and safely arrived in Munich at about 7pm.
This was my second Africa experience. It was much different as I actually engaged with the local people. Overall, we were very lucky not to get robbed or involved in any bigger issues. The jeep was an amazing idea and I want to do more trips like these, maybe on a bike the next time. Zanzibar is a little island and one can feel that vibe. The biggest lesson we learned is that every dead end treasures a surprise. Without the jeep we would have missed so many great stories, but with the jeep we were able to explore so many places we would have not be able to got to otherwise. It certainly was not a cheap choice, but it was definitely effective! Unfortunately, as soon as people realise you have a car, they assume you have money to throw around and all. Having a car in Zanzibar means being rich, which is true, but it lets the people assume that they can ask you everything and anything.
Generally, the island has all the development issues many other African countries have as well. Education apart from a bit of English is lacking. Many people cannot count simple numbers in their head so they use their phone, sometimes the wrong way. It obviously is hard to maintain a living that way. Corruption is eminent. There is small corruption like the police story we lived through, but certainly there is also big corruption which is harder to see. People are also afraid to discuss it in public, which makes a democratic change even harder. On top of that, people are extremely poor.
Lastly, negotiating is essential with all interactions where they assume you have money. They will ALWAYS start with a ridiculous price, because they know that some people will just take it. Obviously, that is a smart thing to do, but when you know the real price and they do not want to accept the real market price, everyone is just wasting time. I understand long negotiation procedures when there is a public project or a joint venture, but for a bottle of water, negotiating for minutes is a waste of everyones time.
Overall, I recommend Zanzibar. It has great beaches. There are many ways to explore it, with a Jeep or by public transport or in a resort. But a resort would just be boring. Zanzibar only makes sense for a short times as well. It is an island and it is limited. I will not be coming back for a long time. I drove through all parts in less than six days. It’s cute but there is not an endless string of things to see. It ends, very soon.
Roughly nine months ago, I set on my rather spontaneous journey to China with the British Council exchange program and got a lot of first hand experience in Zhejiang, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It also sparked my interest in China as a whole, so I explored its culture and language a bit more. My current opinion is that China will be one if not the only political, economic and technological leader of the 21st century. Therefore, I see the potential for a big pay-off of a dedicated time investment, which so far has played out in the following ways, starting with the basics and then going into the specifics:
Language can be a big barrier to any research into a country. Therefore, I have taken part in language courses and am currently halfway through my third course on Chinese Mandarin. I am starting to gain a good feeling for it, but I am far from being able to express complex matters. Hopefully, in September I will continue in further studies. A year in China is a quite likely option as well, sometime in the next years.
History, Culture and Philosophy
I have read two books about the Chinese history and politics so far (see: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1a9typR7SqrqfDdKxEYZwDybOKOLGK7TWzX-t-3mbCYQ/edit#gid=0) and I will also leave it at that for now while I am exploring more the Chinese Philosophy, coming back later when I have a better feeling of the cultural background. On the Philosophy side I am currently reading a 300 pager on the history which nicely summarises all the important parts that influence the Chinese society. On the culture part, I am trying to converse with as much Chinese nationals as possible.
Chinese politics is pretty much the epitome of studying Chinese language, history, culture and philosophy. Therefore, I will save this one up for when I am more confident in my knowledge and skills, but I definitely see it is a the long-term goal.
Economics, Investment and Business
Having a natural interest in everything business related and especially internet business related, I will start to research well known companies such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba, but also less well known one’s. I have discussed this step with several people of which each has raised several concerns like the political complexity or the investment complexity regarding the legal matters for example as a foreigner etc., but I think that working through these challenges will result in a pay-off on the long term. I have the time and the resources, so I can afford to experiment.
Science and Technology
Finally, I will take a look at the development of technology as well the scientific progress made in China. Right now, most Chinese travel to the West to get a “decent” education, but things will change and there will be a global academic power shift, but what kind, potentially towards China, that is what I want to understand better.
As part of coursework I have been working with reinforcement learning algorithms lately. Reinforcement learning has gained interest with quite a lot of academic and commercial communites that are interested in deploying "intelligent" agents to make decision for them, better precision than humanly possible.
I read Sutton's book "Reinforcement Learning" to better understand the historical and mathemtical background and it turns out that all reinforcement learning is, at least in its basic parts, is a a collection of Markov Decision problem solving procedures. Specificially, Dynmaic Programming based on the Bellman equation is a good way to solve learning problems where the model is known as a whole. If you don't know the model as a whole or only want to solve a part of the problem, then the application of Marov Chain Monte Carlo methods helps you pull in Bayesian learning to deal with that. Eventually, all you do is simulate or process data and analyse corresponding Markov Chains.
So as a whole, I was a bit disappointed, because the idea of Markov Chains as such is not to challenging (the mathematics of it is, though). Markov Chains and Monte Carlo are very intutitive concepts and solving them also coincides with goals people try to achieve in reinforcement learning.
Anyway, I had a lot of fun exploring all the different ways to solve Grid World problems and I might dive deeper into the issue with an application closer to the real world, hopefully soon.
Recently, I was in Cameroon and it was an experience with plenty of surprises that challenged my prejudices of developing countries.
I am going to talk about the culture and the economy, touching on things like manners and the daily routine as well as how people make their living and how products are sold and marketed to customers.
First, the fun part. Cameroonians like to dress quite expressive with plenty of colours and shapes and forms. Apparently, there is a social norm which drives people to dress more nicely on a daily basis to convey a certain level of wealth and prosperity to the outside even if or especially if you actually are not wealthy. Simply: as in every society and culture, there is a lot of faking, hiding and disguise. On the contrast, if you do not dress nicely, you wear branded shirts, but not the ones people wear in developed countries with branding from Superdry or whatever. In almost all cases, these are shirts that clearly someone was not able to sell anymore in a more developed economy and sold them down to a lower developed economy. There are plenty of jerseys from all kinds of football clubs as well as election campaign shirts or even shirts from events in very small towns in Germany, which I assume, were 'gifted' to the third world. Continuing the pattern of passing down outdated products to less developed economies, when you go into a supermarket, of which there are not many, probably because they are on the price level of the developed world and therefore not many can afford shopping in them, they, too, sell all kinds of products which I remember being sold in Europe 5 years ago. For example, a supermarket in the very centre of Yaounde sold these very simple 'learning computers', an abomination of low-quality Chinese engineering which were sold back in the developing countries when children and teens were not given smartphones, but also not a fully functioning computer, just something which looked like it and was only loaded with half-baked 'learning' games. They were sold on top shelf, but I can hardly imagine anyone buying one. (I am applying my own preferences here, so I am most likely wrong)
Regarding the development of communication and information processing systems, I have mixed observations. It seems like there is a set of telecommunications providers (MTN, Orange, ETN?) that compete for your mobile phones sim card slot. MTN was running a massive campaign with a prominent football player with yellow billboards dominating the streets. At every corner, umbrellas are set up, offering to 'transfer credit' between these providers. That leads me to another important point.
There is A LOT of waiting and sitting around. The people staffing these mobile umbrellas do not seem to have much business (there are just so many on the streets) and I really do wonder how that kind of activity can fund a life. But, somehow, there must be sufficient transactions to sustain these activities. It is a mystery to me. But there are more than just umbrella people on the streets.
In fact, it looks like the majority of Cameroon's economy takes place on the street. There are plenty of street sellers for ALL kinds of goods: tissues, nuts, food, furniture, cables, tires, fruits (so
many!) and many more, but most of all: the 'code de penal' (correction: "Code pénal", sorry for my bad French, but I will most likely only start a French language course when I am confident with my Chinese!). It is basically the most recent state of law and apparently is quite interested in avoiding punishment as there is a specific street in Yaounde where it is sold on the streets. That is, if you want a new one, you know where to go. That also shows a clear difference to a developed country. If I want the most recent state of law, I do a Google search which pulls up its PDF. No need to drive somewhere and get charged for some pieces of paper.
Speaking of driving, the public transportation system is very different. The streets are flooded with yellow taxis of which 95% would not pass any road test in a developed country. These beat up cars, traffic is rough in Cameroon, are the primary source of transport and it is actually not as bad as it sounds. People car pool by shouting their destination of choice into the cabs passing at the street corner. If the driver agrees on the price you propose and is going kind of in your proposed direction, you can get in. These 5 seat cars are usually occupied by more than 5 people. Seat belts virtually do not exist. There is also a problem with these taxis: they stop at every street corner and in that way clog up the crossings. Many if not the most traffic jams are caused by this inefficient behavior which the police is actively countering, but as it seems, to no avail so far. If you want a quick ride, you can also try a 'moto'-taxi, that is a bike with a driver. It looks incredibly dangerous and it is probably one of the cheapest ways to get a quick adrenaline kick in your life.
So, how do you tell the driver your address? You don't because the zipcode system apparently does not work. If you go on Google Maps you can see street names, but when you actually go there, you can see that only really big ones line up, the others, when they exist with asphalt, usually don't.
I only noticed that on a journey to Kribi, a beach city on the west coast, and Douala, Cameroon's most vibrant economic city. I arrived at Kribi via the national road from Yaounde over Edea in about 6 hours, for a 300 kilometer drive. There are almost no highway style broad streets, you can call yourselves happy if there are not too many bumps in the street for some time. For the national level infrastructure, that certainly is unacceptable. But the beach and the sunset was gorgeous. On the next day, I also saw Lobe waterfall, the only waterfall in the world where a river “falls” into the ocean. The boat ride was scary and wet, but totally worth it. Later, I also saw a bit of Cameroon's newest sea port, that is supposed to turn into West Africa's biggest (more later than sooner as far as I can see!). Here is a marketing video, which resembles quite a lot the marketing videos I saw in China regarding big infrastructure projects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4npp9yHaUa4 The videos are exaggerating was much as you can imagine, but the pictures are low level. It’s ambitious, and I appreciate that, but it is also misleading.
After that, I visited Douala, a city about 6 hours north of Kribi. Only there, I first encountered this incredible language called 'Pidgin-English' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin) You can listen to some here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbxDGJ-Zg70 It basically is English combined with whatever local language there used to be before English was introduced. You can listen to it and half of the words will make total sense to you, because they are just plain English, but the other half is just intelligible. It’s a great experience to hear that from first hand (or mouth?).
Travelling through vast lands gave a great impression of a country side which has not been completely developed for commercial use. There are plenty of forest which you would have a hard time working through, because they are so untouched.
Back in Yaounde, I also ran the “Parkour Vita” at the foot of the hill surrounding Yaounde which is training circuit with about 20 different exercises (and two police towers on the way, not sure what that is about).
A clear feature of Cameroon was the in existence of sculptural art in the public. In many countries in the developed world, a certain part of construction budgets need to go art installation to support the overall aesthetic. But in Cameroon, it does not seem like this law is being applied or is even existent. It is something which you only later realise, that “something” missing, where by “missing” I mean it is not like in Europe or the US, which is not a bad thing as such. It’s just different.
In terms of domestic politics, there seems to be quite a big following of the president as a person. People have pictures up on the wall of him and he is certainly well known, but also certainly quite old. It speaks for the culture of the people and their political engagement. It’s not necessarily worse, just different.
China is everywhere. It looks like Chinese companies have taken over the majority of public construction projects and they clearly signify that by putting up signs with Mandarin Chinese only writing. You cannot ignore it, and someone wants to show everyone that they indeed ARE dominating the construction industry. There is a deeper reason to all this Chinese involvement which I have not been able to pin down sufficiently.
Also, who ever said that New York is the city that never sleeps clearly has never been to Yaounde. You can go for a run on an empty Broadway in Manhattan, but you cannot do that in Yaounde, because streets are buzzing 24/7.
Generally, I had this subconscious understanding that a low level of development strongly correlates with a high level of criminal activity. Indeed, you should not be on the streets when it gets dark, foreigner or not. I might have been sheltered from criminal activity during my whole stay, but fact is that I never encountered any criminal activity, which is clearly below what I expected to experience.
Overall, there is no direct benefit in comparing our state of development to the state of a developing country. They have their own means and they make the most out of it in their OWN way. It works, somehow, for now and I really hope for them in the future as well. I am very sure that they will leapfrog many developments as well as go through some developments developed countries go through. Street sellers sooner or later will disappear. They will get a zipcode system working at some point, although it is a nice idea to play with that they might leapfrog to drone delivery. It really would make sense.
Some time ago I finished reading “On China” by Henry Kissinger (HK), a 550 page very accessible historic and political perspective on China. It covers the ancient history of China, the time before HK’s involvement with its international politics as a US representative, the time when he indeed was heavily involved and the time after. It is filled with precise and insightful discussion of international politics and the theory of international relations.
For example, there is heavy reliance on politics in Europe during the end of the 19th century. At that time the concept of countries just about started to exist. Countries then went on into power conflicts and power balances and still do so today. Countries are based on a certain sense of culture, and each culture is quite different and therefore also leads to quite different systems.
The urge of US representatives to introduce “democracy” such as Regan was emphasising is just amazing. In the West, we do accept democracy as some kind of ultimate state of political development and are so convinced of its success that we want it to be introduced everywhere else. At lowest level, this is just ignorant. Democracy is not a general answer to all kinds of cultural, economic and political issues. It is foolish to accept it as the definitive solution.
Anyway, the part of the book where HK elaborates in quite some detail on encounters with high officials of China such as Mao, Xiaoping or Zemin are extraordinary and absolutely worth the money. On top of that, the sources he draws on are extensive and I enjoyed following him up on them.
Some funny bits: Mao had Krushev put on swimming wings once during a meeting at a pool. It was also their last meeting. The task of building international relations looked like poker back then and in retrospect more like a kindergarten. Finally, Chinas domestic politics are essentially intransparent for most of us.
Overall, China, indeed, is emerging with quite a big momentum out of the 20th century and will definitely influence our lives significantly more in the 21st century than it already does today. Strong economy, kind of stable government, varied strong emotions. But it has significant inequality problems, and increased military activity. Not sure how to judge that.
5 quarters ago, on the 1st of June 2015, I decided to start quarterly reports on the progress of my goals. I have picked up many goals since and dropped many as well. It perfectly shows how life is and up and down and it is really all about taking your chances at right time. Put yourself into the position to be lucky. Anyways, I will move to a more structured way of reporting, i.e. I will categories for my goals e.g. smaller projects for things that are not heavily on my list. Also, I will introduce the means, i.e. how I want to get there e.g. through books, courses, interviews etc.) Here we go:
Uncertainty/Probability (as the core issue of decision making)
As an overarching goal I have set myself the inquiry into what exactly uncertainty is. There is plenty, and by that I mean tons, of ways to go into this inquiry, namely the goals see below.
Main project of the year:
Quantum computing (including complexity and more)
Last year, I set myself the goal of trying to understand the fuzz about artificial intelligence and the actual “technology” (really: the math) behind it. I am perfectly on track for understanding AI (it is really just machine learning, at least from the technical perspective).
Recently, I have been reading into the issues of quantum computing, mainly inspired by https://www.edge.org/memberbio/seth_lloyd. He mentions also machine learning as potential application of quantum computing and I took him by heart i.e. I want to understand what he exactly means by that and for that I am reading into the background and the basics of quantum computing.
Bachelor's thesis: the role of probability in or in ethics
Web crawlers and text analysis (this has been already been working well over the last year)
China: study the language (via courses), culture, politics and economics/business (via books and conversations with nationals)
additional modules: History of Mathematics, Computability and Complexity (both via courses at the University)
These are things that are on my bucket list, but that have not made it onto my daily schedule due to being not important enough as the others. They include (without any order):
Finally, the general theme for all these goals is to UNDERSTAND them and not just RUSHING through them. There is no use in rushing through something, almost always. So, I will take my time and the time which is necessary.
There is no shortcut to happiness.